The World of Pirate DVDs

Over the last few years I've had the chance to travel to a few places around the world and in some countries I've encountered a horror far beyond anything in the movies we talk about on this site. It's a act so vile, so unspeakably foul that it could deprive an underprivileged studio executive of the basic human right of driving a Bentley. I speak, of course, of pirated DVDs. Let this be a warning to you all.

In Jordan I came across the lot of DVDs seen above, which I seized and brought home with me to turn in to the authorities. There, piracy is so common that the concept of renting a DVD doesn't make any sense to a Jordanian. After all, why rent a DVD for 3 dinars when you can buy a pirate version for 1 JD, much less spend 20+ JD on buying an official copy?

In downtown Amman there's a whole street filled with DVD stores without an official disc in sight. For 1 JD (buy 5 get one free) you can get films that are still in the cinema, or sometimes not even released in the country yet, in addition to PC DVDs, PS3/360 games, and music CDs. Some discs only have poor quality copies downloaded from the internet and some are one for one copies of retail DVD, special features intact. It's always a gamble, though. You might be disappointed to find, for example, that just because the box says "Machine Girl" has both an English audio track and subtitles doesn't necessarily mean it has either one.

The discs inside the boxes don't make any effort to hide their non legitimate status. They're unlabeled, cheap DVD-Rs. Oddly, many of the discs seem to be DVD-RW, probably so they can be salvaged if something goes wrong. Many of the discs, even the DVD rips have only a basic, homemade menu and no features- not even Arabic subtitles. Maybe that's why most people I ran into, from corner store owners to cab drivers, seemed to speak surprisingly good English.

Middle Eastern pirated DVDs pale in comparison to their counterparts in Asia. In Thailand, Malaysia and China the DVDs are practically indistinguishable from the real thing. They come in a bag instead of a clamshell case but the discs are professionally printed, the special features are almost always intact and only the price gives them away as not being the real thing.

Piracy is so widespread and in-grained that sometimes you can even find pirated DVDs in major international stores like Tesco. There are rumors that SONY actually sold the "pirate rights" to some consortium of gangsters in Thailand because they realized that not being able to stop it, they might as well get some money off of it.

The police also get their cut. Sometimes you might find a DVD booth covered with a sheet and not selling anything. That's because the seller knows a police raid is scheduled later that day. If you come back an hour or two later and he'll be back in business (as long as he's paid his monthly bribe, that is).

So now, friends, if you find yourself in some seedy faraway port (or the Chinatown of any semi-major American city) browsing through ridiculous cheap movies, you can avoid the abhorrent nightmare of accidentally buying pirated DVDs. Now you know. And knowing is... good or something.

John Shelton

Writer/Podcast Host/Professor

Born and raised in the back of a video store, Shelton went beyond the hills and crossed the seven seas as BGH's foreign correspondent before settling into a tenure hosting Sophisticult Cinema. He enjoys the finer things in life, including but not limited to breakfast tacos, vintage paperbacks and retired racing greyhounds.

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